ADVERTORIAL • May 2021
Epic landscapes, endless sun and abundant nature make this tiny speck in the Atlantic one of our best holiday options this year. Want to get planning? Travel editor Katie Gatens reveals the many faces of Madeira…
As you come to land in Madeira, fantastic landscapes shrouded in all shades of green and blue rise up to meet you. The first thing should do is get up high: there are more than 2000 kilometres of levadas (irrigation channels) criss-crossing the island’s mountains, many of which you can walk alongside. Don’t miss taking a selfie at the dramatic viewpoint Pico Ruivo – you can also hike to nearby Pico Arieiro. Still looking for adventure? Take a hair-raising open-top jeep safari through the unspoiled Unesco-listed laurisilva, an ancient laurel forest, estimated to be around 20 million years old.
It would be rude to decline a tipple of the Madeiran fortified wine that the island is famous for, and you can visit the terraces of vines snaking across steep mountainsides on a vineyard tour with Blandy’s. Afterwards, stop into Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal for a free tasting where you can take a bottle home. For something more modern, Barbusano in the northern village of São Vicente has been making table wine for just 25 years. You can stop into their glass-fronted warehouse for a six-wine tasting. See those roadside taverns? They’re serving zesty poncha, a drink made from sugar cane juice, honey and orange and a must-try on the island.
The island is not short of A-list connections – Madeira is the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo – and you can find the well-heeled staying at the Belmond Reid’s Palace in Funchal, the oldest and most iconic hotel on the island. George Bernard Shaw once tangoed across the hotel’s ballroom and Winston Churchill resided here for two weeks in the 1950s; the sprawling garden suite he stayed in now bears his name. Spend days lazing under pristine-white parasols and diving into the sea from the poolside and nights dining on the candlelit terrace at Ristorante Villa Cipriani’s.
Daytime temperatures on Madeira hover around a balmy 20°C all year round. The unique subtropical climate was a hit with Portuguese naturalists stopping off here and the African Tulip Trees, Dragon trees and birds of paradise they left behind flourished. See the fruits of their labours at Monte Palace Tropical Gardens (pictured), up a vertiginous cable-car ride from Funchal, and spend hours wandering cobbled pathways past ponds of koi carp and banana plants. Afterwards, take the wicker sledge ride half-way back down to Funchal and head straight to any one of the island’s exceptional natural pools. Few visitors manage it over to the wind-whipped Porto Santo island, just a two-hour ferry ride or 15-minute flight away, but do and you’ll find some of the best dive sites in Europe and vast empty beaches.
Funchal is reinventing itself as one of the coolest city centres in Europe. Reserve a bar seat at restaurant-of-the-moment Kampo and you can watch chef Julio Pereira plating up dishes of oxtail and truffle mousse, and white chocolate, olive and passionfruit dessert. Follow up with a drink at new rooftop cocktail bar Three House where there’s a spectacular view of the mountains and sea. Done for the night? Check into hip new townhouse hostel Jaca’s crisp-white rooms, where there’s live music on weekends and artists in residence.
For more inspiration to help plan your perfect trip to Maderia, click here